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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Something that D&D Shares with the Bible

What makes D&D, well, D&D? Is it the d20? Is it elves, dwarves and halflings? Is it fireball-slinging wizards, curing clerics and vancian magic? Is it multi-hued dragons and the other bizarre monsters? Is it random 3-18 stats and stat prerequisites? Is it alignment? Is it dungeons filled with monster menageries and improbable death traps? Is it the Middle-Age-Greyhawk-esque milieu?

It’s impossible to say exactly what defines D&D. But I think that one of its traits not only helps define D&D, but makes it the best-selling rpg for the same reason that the Bible is the best-selling book in America:

It has something for everyone. D&D has human fighters for the farmboy-done-good experience, it has elven wizards for the mysterious outsider experience, it has hobgoblin blackguards for the fascist militant experience, it has centaurs for the some-old-wizard’s-experiment experience, it has war forged for the existential dilemma experience, it has lizard people for the just-plain-weird experience. The list goes on and on. And yes, it’s utterly absurd, but that’s the beauty of D&D.

Theoretically, D&D lets you play anything fantastical up to and including the kitchen sink. That’s not to say that cutting back on options is badwrongfun; I once ran a short Creation campaign, which is a human-only world. But cutting down on options is cutting back on, possibly, D&D’s greatest strength.

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Pet Peeve: Battle Grid Oddities

I’m a fan of the battle grid, if for nothing else than as a visual aid. I suck at describing location and positioning, and my brain mangles similar information that I get from others. If you describe to me an onyx statue standing in the northwest corner of a hall, I’ll be imagining an ivory figurine magically floating on the southeast edge of a dais. That said, WotC D&D does create certain battle grid oddities.

Flanking is a Couple’s Sport

Triple teaming your enemy is better than double teaming him, right? And yet by the rules triple teaming, or quintuple teaming [and so on], grants no advantage to the third [or fifth, etc.] wheel. Because, against normal-sized enemies at least, you have to be exactly opposite of your ally to officially ‘flank,’ flanking is a couple’s game.

Mind the Cardinal Points, Ye Flankers

…Because it’s easy to escape flankers who fight from combo-compass points (NE/SE/NW/SW). Your victim need only shift (aka 5-foot step) toward one of the combo-compass points, and then he’s free to blast you or flee! But if you trap him from the basic compass points (N/E/S/W), he’s in trouble. Because no matter which way he shifts, he’ll still be adjacent to at least one flanker.

The Ten Foot No-Charge Zone

This oddity is unique to 4e. Because creatures can’t charge just one square, smart players and DMs can exploit certain conditions and forced movement to put enemies in the ‘no-charge zone.’ There’s even a CharOp build that specializes in creating this effect; it’s called the polearm momentum fighter. This is how it works: knock your target prone from two squares away with your polearm. When your target’s turn comes up, he can use his move action to stand up. But he can’t attack you; because even though you’re only two squares away, he can’t officially ‘charge’ because you’re too close. (Dazing your opponent, and using forced movement also works, but it’s not as easy.)

This creates a weird tactic where the fighter says “Okay guys, I’m tripping this guy, so stand exactly ten feet away so he can’t attack you!”

Square Circles

As much as 4e fans explain it as abstraction for the sake of simplicity, square fireballs still look silly. Of course, nothing’s perfect; counting squares by 5-15-20 feet gets annoying quick, and hex grids are sacriligious in D&D.

Hex Cone Sectors

Despite being sacriligious, hexes do iron out some of D&D’s grid oddities, but they have one of their own. Cones look really good on hex grids, because hexes naturally create triangles. But a character wanting to cast cone of cold for example, will find that a neat triangle template will only fit into one of six distinct ‘sectors.’ This can create weird situations where a caster can’t hit two targets because they’re in different ‘sectors,’ even though they’re right next to each other.

The sector oddity can be helped by using two different cone templates, one neat and one bumpy, but at the end of the day it’s a matter of picking your poison. Do you want the battle grid and its oddities, or the vaguery of pure description?

 
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Posted by on 19/03/2011 in Charging, Flanking, Hex Maps, Oddities

 

Daylight Delusion Time

Claudine Zap of Yahoo! news has this to say about our yearly tradition, in which we set our clocks forward an hour in order to delude ourselves into thinking that we’re saving something:

“The hope is that we save energy — since there’s less of a need to switch on the lights if natural light will do. Studies have shown the electricity conserved on the new schedule is actually pretty nominal. But look on the bright side. Those longer light-filled days are sure nice.”

I wish I could share Claudine’s silver lining. But to me, DDT is just another example of how otherwise intelligent people can be convinced of a patently absurd idea. What I mean is that I’ve talked to several people who, despite their otherwise bright and thoughtful minds, take ‘daylight savings time’ at face value. As in, “If I turn my clock back, I magically turn an hour of night into an hour of day.” That’s the power of tradition and misleading names working in tandem with faulty philosophy, baby!

Claudine wrote something else that caught my eye:

“…sleep disorder specialists say you should prepare yourself: You actually can lose sleep over the time change.”

Wait just a minute! I can lose sleep? No, Claudine and specialists, I will lose sleep. An hour of it. If I fall asleep when I normally would, I’ll get one less hour of sleep than I normally do. If I fall asleep an hour early, I’ll get one less hour of sleep than I should. And I won’t get it back until November 6th. That’s eight months!

Claudine does make one good point though — that the energy we save by DDT is nominal. You don’t need studies or statistics to divine this fact; just consider the average American’s relationship with light switches. We leave half the house lights on 16 hours a day, just so we don’t have to walk through a romantically lit living room; we leave the other half of our lights on as nightlights on; we keep our computers on 16 hours a day just so we don’t have to wait the half minute for them to turn on; our children flip lights on and off to play pranks. And in a public building, or a business? Forget it! If some good sumaritan flips a switch to save a volt of energy, someone else uses that volt when they switch the switch five minutes later. (Fun fact: just flipping a switch uses extra energy, especially with flourescent lights.) The only reason anything stays off for any length of time is when we’re too lazy to replace a lightbulb.

Whatever money we do save by losing an hour of sleep for eight months is lost again on the morning of DDT when traffic accidents increase. Again, you don’t need to be a scientist to understand this; when you’re driving to church or the grocery tomorrow morning, tired and iritable because you lost an hour of sleep, think about it. Tired drivers cause accidents, iritable drivers cause accidents; tired and iritable drivers cause twice as many accidents.

So, long story short: you want to lose an hour of sleep? Set your own damn alarm early, but don’t wake me up. I’ll vote for any politician who says the same.

 
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Posted by on 12/03/2011 in daylight savings time